Free tools in the hands of pros

JRC's Ben Franklin ProjectThe Journal Register Company today launched its Ben Franklin Project, in which all of its output as a media company is being created with “free tools found on the Internet.” From from assigning to editing, the whole creating, publishing and distribution of news content on both the web and in print is, as of today, free of any proprietary technology. The launch on July 4th is symbolic — it’s the company’s “independence day.”

Jeff Jarvis (naturally) played a role in this, and his view covers just about everything. It’s noteworthy to me on many levels, but mostly it’s about the quality of “free” tools and how those tools in the hands of professionals can do amazing things.

In my early writings about the “personal media revolution,” I frequently noted that open source software was surprisingly robust and easy-to-use. Back then, most media execs — and especially the technical folks, the engineers — scoffed at their crude form. TV people, for example, were so used to spending $250,000 on just about anything that the idea of “free” was laughable.

I remember building a group weather blog for WKRN in 2004 using Movable Type. GM Mike Sechrist was stunned, and it turned out to be a defining moment as we moved forward in using these tools. We created many blogs, including Nashville is Talking, and the more station employees were exposed to these and other tools, the quicker was their ability to grasp anything about the Web.

There are, of course, many advantages to proprietary software, but we fool ourselves if we think that having such somehow shields us from the disruption created and sustained by those who use open source tools.

My hat’s off to Paxon and the entire crew at the Journal Register Company. It’ll be fun to watch them in the weeks and months ahead.


  1. Hype Machine says

    The JRC hype machine is in full force, and it’s laughable. There’s a reason it took a full month to come out with ONE edition of the newspaper. Scribus is a joke. There’s a reason it’s free. It’s slow. It’s tedious. The simplest tasks in InDesign or Quark take much longer in Scribus. Those 2 blow it out of the water in quality and efficiency. We are no where near ready to publish a paper using free tools from the web. Especially if our only option is the piece of crap that is Scribus.

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